Mothers who stay at home are more likely to be unhappy than those who go out to work, a new study has revealed.
Women who believe in “intensive parenting” are at risk of a range of mental illnesses including depression.
The researchers think that women are better parents than men, that mothering should be child centred and that children should be considered sacred and fulfilling. This may put them in danger of suffering the ‘parenthood paradox’ where their ideology increases feelings of stress and guilt.
“If intensive mothering is related to so many negative mental health outcomes, why do women do it?” the Telegraph quoted psychologist Kathryn Rizzo as saying. “They may think that it makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health to enhance their children’s cognitive, social and emotional outcomes,” she said.
Rizzo said that parenting is a big task and requires a variety of skills and expertise. Many women rated the challenge as one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. But some previous research had suggested it might be detrimental to mental health, with women reporting taking care of their children as more stressful than being at work.
So her team at the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, looked at whether intensive parenting in particular was linked to increased levels of stress, depression and lower life satisfaction among 181 mothers of children under five.
Using an online questionnaire, they found out to what extent the participants endorsed intensive parenting beliefs by measuring their responses to a series of statements.
These included “mothers are the most necessary and capable parent”, “parents’ happiness is derived primarily from their children” and “parents should always provide their children with stimulating activities that aid in their development”.
Others were “parenting is more difficult than working” and “a parent should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of the child”.
Overall, the women were satisfied with their lives but had moderate levels of stress and depression. Almost one in four had symptoms of depression and these negative mental health outcomes were accounted for by their endorsement of intensive parenting attitudes.
When the level of family support was taken into account, those mothers who believed women are the essential parent were less satisfied with their lives. While those who believed that parenting is challenging were more stressed and depressed.
The researchers said overall, the women were satisfied with their lives but had moderate levels of stress and depression. “In reality, intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend,” they added.
The findings were recently published online in Springer’s Journal of Child and Family Studies.